"If we can hold the UAE, the stadium in Delhi will be full on Thursday and we could win," the 27-year-old native of Kerala said. "But if we lose by three or four tonight, no one will come. Everyone will think, 'Oh, India is weak again. India is no good.' They will go back to watching cricket."
India's strange position as the world's most prominent country without, apparently, a competent national side was put to the test in a 2014 World Cup qualifier at Khalifa Stadium in Al Ain, the first game of a home-and-away tie to determine who advances to the final 20 in the Asian Football Confederation tournament. The second game is in New Delhi on Thursday.
Balendra was among several hundred India fans who tore themselves away from the proceedings at Lord's to support their football team. They took up nearly two sections of stands at one end of the stadium and chanted "India! India!" before the match and roared encouragement whenever their team got within 30 metres of the goal.
They did not quite outnumber the UAE supporters, but it was surprisingly close. Or perhaps it should not have been a surprise, given that two million Indians live in the UAE, compared to not quite one million Emiratis.
Football in India is in a fragile state; more hard times have befallen it in the past few years. Two large clubs closed; India regularly are beaten by heavy scores. The best news in 2010 was qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup, at least until the tournament was contested in January and India emerged with three losses by an aggregate 13-3.
Hello, India football fans? Never mind. The sense, however, is that football is dormant, not dead in India. And all the fans need is a reason to believe.
They did not get one last night. The UAE clearly were the bigger, faster and more athletic side, and that was always going to be a problem for the visitors. Still, India played on something resembling even terms for 15 minutes, even if the idea of them scoring seemed exotic.
What doomed India was the UAE's clear superiority in tactics, awareness and gamesmanship. The UAE performed as if they have been in big games before; India played as if they have never even seen one.
The disparity came into focus 20 minutes into the game. The India centre-back Debrabata Roy allowed Ali Al Wehaibi to get behind him in the box, and when Amir Mubarak lofted a nice ball over the heads of the duo, Al Wehaibi knew what to do the moment he felt Debrabata's hand on his shoulder.
A man who has won championships with Al Ain and has played in dozens of UAE games immediately dropped to the ground and clutched at his ankle even as Debrabata clumsily stepped over and on him. Seconds later the Qatari referee was showing Debrabata a red card and Hamdan Al Kamali was strolling toward the spot.
A second disaster was to befall the naive Indians just four minutes later. A restart by Ahmed Khalil just outside the area went directly to the goalkeeper, Subrata Pal, who came off his line to catch the ball, saw Ismail Al Hammadi coming at him quickly and made the mistake of raising his right knee in a probably instinctive but fatal movement.
Hammadi, the Al Ahli veteran, knew how to turn that projecting knee into value, falling to the turf after a glancing connection.
Another red card. Another penalty. India fans howled impotently as their side went down to nine men with more than an hour left in temperatures of 40°C. Mohammed Al Shehhi took the penalty, beat the No 2 keeper, and it was 2-0, and that one per cent of 1.2 billion Indians not already following the efforts of Tendulkar and Dhoni must have switched to the cricket.
India did well, and the UAE rued, when the score did not become more lopsided than the 3-0 final. India are very unlikely to score three against the UAE, but four or five would be impossible.
Another football nation, one that thought its national side could gain momentum from playing a one-goal game for 70 minutes with a nine-man team, might take heart from the performance last night. But that was India, and the stadium will be empty in Delhi on Thursday, and another four years in the wilderness looms.
Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Oberjuerge on @PaulOberjuerge